Tuesday 16 June 2015

The first rule of Tim Hunt is…

I see a lot of people at the moment saying we should stop talking about the Tim Hunt affair and focus on the Real Issues facing women in science. As though condescending arseholes at the top of the profession aren't one of those issues.

Even Brian Cox is doing it. Lucky I don’t idolise anyone or my illusions might just be shattered.

All of you saying we should move on, or that the response to Hunt was “disproportionate” (if I never hear that word again it will be too soon) need to take a good hard look.

Many of us will only “move on” from Tim Hunt as soon as there is a serious recognition that Hunt’s remarks at the WCSJ were serious and damaging enough to warrant the sanctions that have been applied. Spare me the world’s smallest violin, but a white male professor FRS Nobel Laureate having an unremunerated honorary position taken away together with a couple of positions of influence on the ERC and Royal Society does not an excommunication make. I don’t want to hear any more self-pitying bullshit about him being “hung out to dry” or “removed from society”.

I haven’t said much about the Tim Hunt affair. To be honest I’ve been busy listening to the reactions from others, particularly women in science. And as a privileged white male professor at a leading UK university I honestly don’t feel that my opinion counts for much. But I do have one, and for what it’s worth here it is:

1 – Hunt’s comments were unacceptable and stupid. He has yet to offer a full apology, which just shows how little recognition he has of sexism in science. Oh but he's old, right, so that's ok? Fuck that. My dad is the same age as Hunt, has one less Nobel prize, grew up in 1950s Australia (AKA Betty Crocker Central) and could teach him a thing or two about equality.

2 – the prompted resignations from UCL, Royal Society, and the ERC were appropriate. Some have criticised them for being too quick. Bullshit. They were fast because the case was clear. They did the right thing and I applaud them.

3 – there has been no witch hunt, no lynch mob, no burnings or beheadings. Just people, including lots of women scientists, expressing their displeasure with Tim Hunt’s comments on social media. And often with great humour.

4 – I am deeply disappointed by some of the defences of Hunt emerging from various Establishment figures, publicly and in private. A lot of these defences are being expressed behind the scenes and consist of “He’s a nice guy; he has no media training and was lost at sea; I’ve never seen any evidence of him behaving in a sexist manner so everything is fine”. Many of these people are sending these messages in the hope that the recipients will use their influence to defend him on their behalf. Stop it. If you want to defend Tim Hunt, at least have the spine to do it yourself.

5 – To those calling for more evidence of wrongdoing before "condemning" Hunt, just stop. The comments are evidence enough that he is not fit to hold ambassadorial roles in science. Being a great scientist does not justify being a purveyor of 1950s sexism.

6 – Those telling us to move on or pay attention to something else would do well to examine the privilege of their own vantage point. Why exactly do you want to move this debate on so quickly? And here's some fun Bingo to play while you’re at it.

7 – We are all sexist. I know I am because I was raised in 1980s Melbourne surrounded by gender stereotypes and it is an ongoing battle combatting these in work and life. Avoiding benevolent sexism is particularly challenging. I will be working hard to teach my 9-month old son to fight these stereotypes as he grows up, rather than accept them as I did.

8 – Fuck off, Boris Johnson. You tedious populist fart. There, that was easy.

9 – Athene Donald has published a fantastic list of actions we can all take to further the cause of women in science. My only proviso is that she predicates it all on a very shaky defense of Hunt, who is clearly her friend. But the list is excellent and I’ve reproduced it below without the unnecessary "Hunt is a really nice guy" baggage:

  • Call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever you see it – in committees or in the street. Don’t leave women to be victimised;

  • Encourage women to dare, to take risks;

  • Act as a sponsor or mentor (if you are just setting out there will still always be people younger than you, including school children, for whom you can act);

  • Don’t let team members get away with demeaning behaviour, objectifying women or acting to exclude anyone;

  • Seek out and remove microinequities wherever you spot them;

  • Refuse to serve on single sex panels or at conferences without an appropriate level of female invited speakers;

  • Consider the imagery in your department and ensure it represents a diverse group of individuals;

  • Consider the daily working environment to see if anything inappropriate is lurking. If so, do something about it.

  • Demand/require mandatory unconscious bias training, in particular for appointment and promotion panels;

  • Call out teachers who tell girls they can’t/shouldn’t do maths, physics etc;

  • Don’t let the bold (male or female) monopolise the conversation in the classroom or the apparatus in the laboratory, at the expense of the timid (female or male);

  • Ask schools about their progression rates for girls into the traditionally male subjects at A level (or indeed, the traditionally female subjects for boys);

  • Nominate women for prizes, fellowships etc;

  • Tap women on the shoulder to encourage them to apply for opportunities they otherwise would be unaware of or feel they were not qualified for;

  • Move the dialogue on from part-time working equates to ‘isn’t serious’ to part-time working means balancing different demands;

  • Recognize the importance of family (and even love) for men and women;

  • Be prepared to be a visible role model;

  • Gather evidence, data and anecdote, to provide ammunition for management to change;

  • Listen and act if a woman starts hinting there are problems, don’t be dismissive because it makes you uncomfortable;

  • Think broadly when asked to make suggestions of names for any position or role.